Liz Smith: “LIKE WATCHING paint dry!”

Fran LeibowitzThis is the ultimate comment about the tiresome tedium of actually making movies. Despite all the romance, glamour and effort of writing, directing, makeup, costumes, and technique, plus acting, the road to stardom sometimes seems like sheer boring madness.

So that’s what I thought after I answered the call of Norman Mailer’s sons to contribute to a documentary memorial of the famous Norman, concentrating on one of his most disliked and controversial books, “Ancient Evenings.“

At a studio in Long Island City, there were hours of just sitting at a dining table, in a set made to replicate the late writer’s Brooklyn house. Our one scene was shot over and over, as we were read to by actress Elaine Stritch.

Although I love observing the talented Ms. Stritch, a friend of mine since the 1950s, I was too impatient to be of much use. My consolation was sitting next to the witty writer/performance artist Fran Lebowitz. (Unlike me, Fran is a real actor. She has patience and you’ve seen her often as a judge in the TV series “Law & Order.” Fran is a pro, seldom speaking, but always dropping pearls of wisdom.

Fran was wearing a chalk-striped black jacket with cufflinks that read “7” on dice at her cuffs. On her feet — brown cowboy boots with horses as decoration. Fran has been named by Vanity Fair to the best-dressed list.)

I SAT there trying to look alert and remembered when my friend Norman Mailer’s book Ancient Evenings came out in the ’80s and how hard I’d worked to persuade him to read from it for Literacy Partners.

Naturally, he drew a huge crowd and they simply hated what he read — which was pretty gruesome — all about disemboweling and embalming. “Why did you ask him to read that?” many disgruntled contributors asked, afterward.

I guess they don’t realize that I, of all people, wouldn’t try nor want to “edit” Norman Mailer. At the time, Norman knew people didn’t like the massive novel and although he pretended to welcome and argue with criticism, I knew he was hurt by such “an artistic failure.”

Well, in the “live and learn” aspect of life, what Miss Stritch read to us was from the very end of the Egyptian novel. She was brilliant and moving. She gave it all she had — going “tch, tch” at times, almost tearing up, asking out loud how to pronounce difficult Egyptian names, inquiring about “ka” and so forth.

So I realized I was just one of many who had disliked “Ancient Evenings” and I need to go back and re-read this classic.

Matthew Barney, Ancient Evenings: Ba Libretto, 2009 Graphite and gold leaf paperback copy of Ancient Evenings by Norman Mailer, on carved salt base, in nylon and acrylic vitrine

SWIRLING AROUND us during filming was the celebrated director/writer/producer/actor/editor/costume designer/art director, and soundtrack expert Matthew Barney who is making this “Ancient Evenings” film. It will be a hybrid of cinema-opera, employing actors as characters and as themselves. When it tours it is to be shown at the Park Avenue Armory. It will show in the nation’s opera houses, not in movie theaters.

John Buffalo Mailer with dad, NormanJohn Buffalo Mailer, the son of Norman and the late Norris Church, will act in it, along with Ellen Burstyn and Maggie Gyllenhaal and many others. The Mailer family is cooperating with director Barney, who is well-known, I’m told, from Yale. He has been named on many lists as an “important filmmaker … a great visionary … and for “The Cremaster Cycle,” whatever that means.

I finally got to give my remembrances of Norman, after I threatened to kill myself if I wasn’t let go. But I admit I was charmed by Mr. Barney who was dressed in costume as he directed.

Evidently, he will play a character who is one of the undead. (well, you already know what I think about the “undead, vampires, zombies and werewolves.) But I do recognize talent when I see it in action. Matthew Barney was described by everyone I met during this “ordeal” as an artist of the highest repute. Maybe he will do Norman Mailer’s considerable intellect and genius proud. I hope so!

ONE OF the sweetest, loveliest women of our recent time has died. She was the widow of the “60 Minutes” star, Mike Wallace, and I think she was happier following him than sticking around longer.

Here’s a photo of a lunch some of us had with Mary recently where she fed us and gave each guest a pair of sunglasses with colored frames. “They make you look younger.” (We were: Iris Love, Mary, Liz and Sheila Nevins, the fabled documentary-maker of HBO.)

Sheila Nevins, Iris Love, Mary Wallace, and Liz

Mary Wallace will be buried Sept. 15 at 4 p.m. in West Chop, Martha’s Vineyard. She had a long good goodbye from her children, Eames, Ted, and Angus Yates and their offspring. (Mary married Mike long ago after his partner, Ted Yates, was shot and killed in Israel.)

The family, at 340 West 57 St., apt 6i, 10019, request donations in Mary’s name be made to Citymeals-on-Wheels, 355 Lexington Ave, NYC 10017.

WHEN THE colorful glamorous Hollywood Reporter landed on my doorstep last week, I was pleased to see Bradley Cooper on the cover. There he is in all his dreamy T-shirted glory. The actor, 37, is hotter than ever. He has three major, highly anticipated films coming — “The Words” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “The Place Beyond The Pines.”

Cooper has moved, swiftly, from the frantic, frat-guy hunk of “The Hangover” movies into George Clooney and Ryan Gosling territory. Even though he looks like one, everybody says Bradley is “not your typical movie star.”

New info for me in Stephen Galloway’s article was that Cooper wrote his college thesis on Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita.” I was going to say in a few years Cooper will be the right age to remake the classic 1962 movie.

Then I remembered the Jeremy Irons version in ’97, directed by Adrian Lynne. Eh, let’s forget that. Cooper could still do it.

SHOWTIME’S INTENSE series, “Homeland” will have its season two premiere tonight, at the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum in NYC. “Homeland” stars Claire Danes as a brilliant but wildly unprofessional (and bi-polar) CIA agent, obsessed with the idea that a veteran of the Iraq War — the compellingly icy and distant Damien Lewis — returned home after a long incarceration, “turned” traitor/terrorist. Of course the show is chock full of wild improbabilities, but realism is for documentaries. “Homeland” was nominated for nine Emmy awards and won the most Golden Globes of any new series.

When last we left Miss Danes’ character she had veered right off into crazytown, submitting herself to electro-shock treatments. But she’s not really the crazy one — well, not the craziest one, anyway.

Tonight’s event is hosted by The Cinema Society. The party will be held on the flight deck of The Intrepid. Hairspray is required. Or a hat. But does anybody still wear a hat, as Elaine Stritch asked, in “Company?”

This column originally appeared on on 9/7/12

2 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Lila says:

    I’m curious to see what they do with Homeland. I kind of wondered if it might not be more like American Horror Story, where it is an entirely new storyline and set of characters for the new season. Apparently not!

    Liz, there were certainly a lot of improbabilities in the show, and even things that were really waaaayy off, but the way that the characters behaved was actually a lot closer to real life than, say, Jack Bauer in 24. Hubby and I used to have a good laugh over that one… until I read in the news that it was actually serving as inspiration to certain idiot policy wonks in DC, who apparently can’t tell reality from the most outlandish fiction. After that it wasn’t so funny any more…

  2. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    I agree Liz, Bradley Cooper is delicious to look at….simply beautiful. 🙂